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7 most important modern artists
This elite group of artists represents the true giants who changed the course of modern and contemporary art. Whether they were recognized during their lives or ahead of their time, their legacies can be traced through countless followers, emulators, and admirers.
Claude Monet
Claude Monet Artwork
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh Artwork
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso Artwork
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp Artwork
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí Artwork
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock Artwork
Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol Artwork
Claude Monet 1840-1926
Achievement
Monet was a radical in his time, an artist who aimed to depict life exactly as he saw it. His paintings emphasized both the natural world and the exciting innovations of modern, urban Paris. Born from his interest in painting in the open air, he sought to capture an impression of a scene as it was occurring, creating a personal visual record that did not purport to capture an objective, universal truth or ideal. Documenting the subjective and transient, his work was a cornerstone of the Impressionist movement and transformed the creative process permanently.
Influence
Monet's devotion to capturing authenticity of experience was a catalyst for 20th century artistic experiments in evocative color and expressive brushstrokes. Furthermore, his choice of subjects rejected classical sources and historical painting in favor of landscapes and urban panoramas without narrative. This legitimized new subjects as worthy of artistic attention, particularly when filtered through the artist's personal style and intentions. The near-abstract quality of Monet's late Waterlilies canvases inspired even more daring breaks with representative painting, paving the way for the many abstract artists of Modernism.


> Claude Monet Full Artist Page
Water Lilies
The pinnacle of Impressionist images, on the brink of abstraction
Impression, SunriseRouen Cathedral: The Façade at SunsetGare St. Lazare
Water Lilies (1915-1926)
Impression, Sunrise
Impression, Sunrise (1873)
The painting that gave the Impressionism movement its name
Rouen Cathedral: The Façade at Sunset
Rouen Cathedral: The Façade at Sunset (1894)
Monet's series paintings, often studies of light and atmosphere, inspired many modernists to consider subjects in series – presenting multiple viewpoints
Gare St. Lazare
Gare St. Lazare (1877)
Impressionists painted modern subjects such as trains, and their impact on the world
Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890
Achievement
Van Gogh's conveyance of intense emotional and spiritual messages was built on the Impressionist's use of abstract color, sketchy paint application, and unconventional perspective. His visible and emphasized brushstrokes in thick swathes of impasto exploited colors and textures to make powerfully expressive interpretations of landscapes, portraits, and still lifes.
Influence
Van Gogh's passionately evocative style has influenced a wide range of modernist painters and encouraged others to paint with a sense of drama and individual personality. Although unappreciated and left to struggle in obscurity during his lifetime, Van Gogh would become highly celebrated and influential to artists of the 20th century.


> Vincent Van Gogh Full Artist Page
Starry Night
Individual brushstrokes combine to make the canvas pulsate, conjuring the motion of nature and/or the divine
Bedroom in ArlesSelf-PortraitSunflowers
Starry Night (1889)
Bedroom in Arles
Bedroom in Arles (1889)
Van Gogh's warped perspectives and scattered compositions reflect the fiercely individual, and some say mentally ill, way he saw the world
Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait (1889)
His many self-portraits lend glimpses into the troubled genius
Sunflowers
Sunflowers (1888)
Van Gogh's still life – a powerful, vibrant and gold contemplation
Pablo Picasso 1881-1973
Achievement
Along with Georges Braque, Picasso boldly broke down the boundaries of visual space and single-point perspective, inventing the style known as Cubism. This movement was the first significant break from the traditional Renaissance conception of painting as a literal extension of our physical world. Although his Cubist works approached abstraction, Picasso never stopped using objects of the real world for his subject matter, articulating playful exploration into meaning and form. His style evolved prolifically over the seventy years of his career, continually breaking new ground and making him (perhaps) the most famous artist of the 20th century.
Influence
Picasso's experiments in Cubism sparked a revolution that inspired countless artists to reconsider the relationship between abstraction and representation. His fractured images inspired styles such as Futurism and Orphism, while his more colorful and Surrealist works were important to the development of Abstract Expressionism. Due to his exhaustive curiosity and interest in creating work within multiple mediums, there are few areas of 20th-century modernism uninfluenced by Picasso's vast hand.


> Pablo Picasso Full Artist Page
Les Demoiselles D'Avignon
Multiple perspectives and a deconstruction of form, shape and space mark Cubism
The Old GuitaristStill Life with Chair CaningGuernica
Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (1907)
The Old Guitarist
The Old Guitarist (1903)
From early in his career, Picasso's Blue Period paintings are masterfully existential and symbolic
Still Life with Chair Caning
Still Life with Chair Caning (1912)
Beyond simply paint on the wall, Picasso led experiments with surface illusions
Guernica
Guernica (1937)
The greatest painting of war also typifies the Cubist technique
Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968
Achievement
Duchamp strove to make art interesting for the mind rather than merely pleasing to the eye. With his “readymade” sculptures, he expanded what the world considered to be art by presenting everyday objects in their literal plainness absent of context and untouched by the artist's hand. This also redefined society's preconceived role of the artist. The idea, not the object, became important. Furthermore, in complicated installations such as his Large Glass or Etant Donnés, Duchamp brought together highly suggestive but hermetic symbols and emblems. This breaking with tradition along with his irreverent attitude toward canonical art contributed to the anti-establishment nature of Dada, especially in his use of humor, mockery, and puns.
Influence
Duchamp's witty disdain for traditional modes of making and exhibiting art was seminal to the development of Conceptual art, which has been echoed by artists who continue to question the role and function of art. Although he sought to undermine the authority of fine art, his influence remains in many avenues of modern and contemporary art including Neo-Dada, Fluxus, Pop art, Minimalism and Performance art. His adoption of an alter ego, Rrose Selavy, inspired other artists to explore adopted personas, as well as questions of gender and identity.


> Marcel Duchamp Full Artist Page
Fountain
If the artist says it is art, it is art, not a urinal
L.H.O.O.Q.Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (Large Glass)Etant Donnés
Fountain (1917)
L.H.O.O.Q.
L.H.O.O.Q. (1919)
High art was just fodder for the jokes of Duchamp and the Dadaists
Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (Large Glass)
Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (Large Glass) (1915-1923)
In the age of industrialization, man is just a grinding machine
Etant Donnés
Etant Donnés (1946-66)
Duchamp's enigmatic final project that merged experiential and installation art
Salvador Dalí 1904-1989
Achievement
The most famous Surrealist, known for his iconic mustache and eccentric behavior, Dalí depicted arresting dream images and colorful insights brought forth from his own subconscious. He often utilized bizarre juxtapositions to make the familiar seem strange. These imaginative and illogical compositions were painted in illusionistic detail, suspending them between the real and the impossible.
Influence
Dalí's Surrealism often included playful combinations of everyday objects, a technique that would appear in the work of Pop artists like James Rosenquist or postmodernists like David Salle. His interest in popular culture culminated in much collaboration with celebrities, work on experimental films and Hollywood blockbusters, and even endeavors into the world of fashion. His designs for dresses, jewelry, and advertisements brought elements of high art to consumer products and helped dissolve the perceived boundaries between fine art and commercialism.


> Salvador Dalí Full Artist Page
The Persistence of Memory
Time melts and the world decays in the most iconic Surrealist image
Un Chien AndalouLobster Phonehrist of Saint John of the Cross
The Persistence of Memory (1931)
Un Chien Andalou
Un Chien Andalou (1927)
Cinema in the most absurd and graphic form launched the careers of Dali and Luis Buñuel
Lobster Phone
Lobster Phone (1936)
The most famous juxtaposition of the everyday and the absurd
hrist of Saint John of the Cross
Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)
Renaissance-inspired, religious canvases are Dali's late career gems
Jackson Pollock 1912-1956
Achievement
Jackson Pollock built on Surrealism's exploration of the subconscious to create a revolutionary style of abstraction. Marking the canvas through a highly physical process of gestural drips, splatters, and strokes, his paintings traced the movements evoked from his raw emotional state. Rather than depicting an object, his paintings captured this process. His drip paintings also rejected traditional composition to create an all-over field that covered the entire canvas without providing a central focus or subject.
Influence
In the wake of WWII, Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists created the first notable American avant-garde movement. The gestural style of Pollock, along with Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still, influenced American and European artists who were looking for new techniques to express postwar uncertainty and anxiety. With his paint-splattered boots, monumental canvases and disdain for art world elitism, Pollock became a heroic figure of modern expressionism — a 20th-century American cowboy.


> Jackson Pollock Full Artist Page
Autumn Rhythm: Number 30
A unique painting created from a uniquely Pollock process
The She-WolfMuralThe Deep
Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (1950)
The She-Wolf
The She-Wolf (1943)
Pollock took the tools of Surrealism and combined them with ideas of the emerging New York School to find his own distinct voice
Mural
Mural (1943)
Pollock's first, entirely covered and breathtaking, 20-foot painting
The Deep
The Deep (1953)
Abstract expression in drips of white and black with subtle spots of yellow reflect the artist's emotion
Andy Warhol 1928-1987
Achievement
Warhol elevated ordinary objects by turning them into works of fine art. Using processes borrowed from the advertising industry, like silkscreen printing, he infused highbrow culture with lowbrow images and materials. He also explored modern celebrity through the repetition of iconic images, which held a mirror up to society's obsessions. He concocted a bridge between banality and opulence in a way that was easy to understand and poignant in its social commentary.
Influence
Warhol made art accessible to everyone by expanding the suitable topics of fine art and co-opting the tools of commerce to do so. Building on Marcel Duchamp's theories, he incorporated everyday objects into art, but chose elements of popular culture that were familiar to a non-art audience. He sought to become a celebrity himself and cultivated a persona that influenced later celebrity-artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.


> Andy Warhol Full Artist Page
Marilyn Monroe
Celebrity and death as new topics for high art
Brillo BoxesMaoSelf-Portrait
Marilyn Monroe (1962)
Brillo Boxes
Brillo Boxes (1964)
Serial, sculptural forms straight out of the supermarket
Mao
Mao (1973)
The leader of state-regulated Communism is rendered in freedom-loving, expressionistic colors
Self-Portrait
Self-Portrait (1986)
Warhol accomplishes his greatest feat; he makes himself famous by fulfilling roles of both artist and subject